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Heavy metal and hair converge at full speed

A fan dressed up as Paul Stanley of KISS

From ‘Too Fast for Love’ by David Yelen

Contributing Editor

Book: ‘Too Fast For Love‘ by David Yellen (foreword by Chuck Klosterman), powerHouse books, 160 pages, hardcover

'Clear Lake, IA August 25, 2000' from 'Too Fast For Love' by David Yellen, Courtesy of powerHouse booksAll style, all fun. No inhibitions, no haircuts. David Yellen’s “Too Fast For Love” (powerHouse books, 2004) portrays a cultural moment that keeps on living: heavy metal. Yellen’s portraits of fans, made over the course of three months in the summer of 2000, captures the eccentricities of this subculture. Photographed typologically and bound in an intimately-sized book, Yellen presents a dramatic cast of characters.

Aesthetically, Yellen made some choices that serve his project well. The harsh flash lighting complements his subjects’ proclivities for sparkly and/or leather clothing and tousled hair. The lighting puts the spotlight on the fans, briefly bestowing on them the glamour of an arena amphitheater. It also underexposes the backgrounds in many images, creating moodily dark skies and further pumping up the drama quotient. His compositional formula, however, took his mission of portraiture too literally, with almost every picture is a dead-on shot of one or two people.


Too Fast For Love: Heavy Metal Portraits
‘Too Fast For Love: Heavy Metal Portraits’ by Chuck Klosterman (Introduction), David Yellen (Photographer)

One of the strongest images shows how much the project could have benefited from a greater willingness to trust serendipity. It shows a scene with two women backstage wearing oddly vacant expressions above their vinyl bikinis, a band crowded in the dressing-room door behind them. This rare deviation from the strict “portrait” raises interesting questions about the enduring cultural role of music as an arena in which to explore taboo themes and activities.

Most of these subjects are Dressing Up, and the seriousness of their task layered onto the pure fantasy of the costume is a great mix. Although Yellen is drawn to the zanier fashions, even those who could fit in at the local supermarket are tilting their hips just so, squinting their eyes just so, to imply a killer mix of sexuality and confidence despite their advanced years or less-than-perfect looks. There are many hilarious moments in the book, but some of the best pictures read more subtly. In a picture of two women behind a stage barrier, the younger, slimmer, and more attractive is on the left, but the star of the picture is on the right, a plump, plain-faced woman with a stunning cascade of golden blond hair. The potential for such transformation — whether from the reality of what you look like or the reality of what your life is like — is the kernel of insight that elevates the project from freak-show humor to sensitive perception.

The book closes with thumbnail images paired with date and place of the picture’s making. With such a quick and dirty project duration, the thumbnails seem like an anthropological attempt to restore “authenticity.” This labeling is ill-suited to the project; all we need to know is in the pictures. Perhaps the choice has something to do with the bizarre PR wrangling between Yellen and his ex-wife, painter Helen Garber. Garber claims the photos were made by Yellen at her bidding as source material for her paintings, and the project was robbed from her by him. Broken hearts, stolen dreams … sounds like a heavy metal anthem.

‘Acts of Charity’ captures how the other half gives

'Acts of Charity' by Mark Peterson
‘Acts of Charity’ by Mark Peterson

Book: ‘Acts of Charity‘ by Mark Peterson (introduction by Philip Weiss), powerHouse books, 160 pages, hardcover


A subtle sense of irony and a knack for telling detail allows Mark Peterson to illustrate in “Acts of Charity” the concept of noblesse oblige and the idea that it takes money to make money as they co-exist in the high-powered world of upscale giving. Set amid the playground of the rich and famous, Peterson’s photographs provide a peek at how the other half gives.

At times, Peterson appears as if he moves invisibly among the well-heeled celebrity donors, depicting them in various natural, if awkward states. One image shows us a blazer-clad, khaki-wearing man hoisting a woman in tennis whites over his shoulder while walking beside a line of luxury automobiles.

Another photo features a taxidermied red fox with a top hat jauntily perched on its head as it stands upon a banquet table — uncharitably, perhaps, for the small mammal. (One hopes it wasn’t from the same humane society benefit event shown on a previous page.)

Other times, Peterson manages to zero in on a delicate ballet of gliteratti, awash in limelight and draped in couture, all for the benefit of those less fortunate than they. Absurd, theatrical and telling, the photographs exist as social commentary.

'Acts of Charity' by Mark Peterson
‘Acts of Charity’ by Mark Peterson

What makes all this fascinating, of course, likely has something to do with the novelty of seeing upper-crust society scarfing down cocktail weiners, horsing around irrespective of who may be watching and fulfilling one’s voyeuristic tendencies within the parameters of charitable giving.

There are plenty of celebrities here — from rapper and hip-hop producer Jay-Z to uberfashionista Vogue editor Anna Wintour, from onetime talk-show host Rosie O’Donnell to heiress and socialite Brooke Astor — but this isn’t quite a paparazzi book. It’s more of a social study.

An anthropology professor of mine at Queens College used to revel in telling students how he ran against the grain of his peers, choosing to study the lifestyles of the ultra-rich instead of primitive cultures, ensconced in a remote rainforest. “They had the best booze, the best parties,” he would say.

Here, at long last, it’s clear to see what he was talking about.